Gallatin High Construction

A group of students from Chief Joseph Middle School tour Bozeman Gallatin High for the first time on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019.

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Should new Gallatin High School have industrial chic ceilings, with exposed fireproofing and duct work? Or should everything be hidden by traditional acoustic tile?

That’s the question the Bozeman School Board is being asked to vote on Monday night, when it meets at 5:45 p.m., in the Willson School boardroom.

The new high school at Cottonwood Road and Oak Street is 69% complete, according to a report from Todd Swinehart, facilities director.

Walking through the school to check on progress, school officials realized that the way the architects and builders planned to finish the hallway ceilings might not be appropriate for a high school.

The approved plans would leave the ductwork exposed, so people could see the pipes, electrical wiring and other ducts that make the building function, as is common in modern commercial buildings.

But that raised concerns about long-term exposure to the sprayed-on fireproofing, as well as cleanliness and whether students might toss debris up into the ductwork or vandalize the wiring.

So the builders came up with several options, which could cost up to $462,000.

Constructing and furnishing the new school now is estimated to cost $91.1 million, out of the $125 million voters approved in 2017 to build a second high school and renovate Bozeman High.

The budget for both buildings has a balance of $9.9 million that’s not yet spoken for and could cover unexpected expenses.

The new high school’s classrooms already have drop-ceilings with acoustic tiles, said Steve Johnson, deputy superintendent for operations. The question is what to do with the hallway ceilings.

The cheapest option would be to leave everything as is, which would cost nothing.

One option would be to paint the exposed ceilings. That would better protect the rough-textured fireproofing, which looks like gray papier-mâché dabbed onto the ceiling. Painting could range from $60,000 to $210,000 depending on whether the painting was done in just the classroom wings, or in all the hallways the public sees, or everywhere throughout the building.

The third option would be to install drop ceilings with acoustic tile. That would cost $140,000 to do just the classroom wings, or $300,000 for all hallways the public sees, or $462,000 for the entire building, including areas considered behind the scenes.

Asked what school officials plan to do if the two school construction projects end up with millions of dollars unused, Johnson said one possibility would be asking voters to approve a “transition levy” to help pay the costs of opening and running two high schools, while reducing the building debt by that same amount.

School board trustees plan to finish Monday night’s meeting early so they can meet with the Bozeman City Commission at about 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

The two elected bodies plan to discuss affordable housing, a new high school library substation, the community partnership on early reading, the possibility of the city putting a parks and trails tax on the May 2020 ballot, and school board meeting times on Monday nights.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 406-582-2633. Follow her on Twitter @gailnews.

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